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Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
I once had a teacher who was always ready to travel. He had whittled his set of possessions so that they all fit in a medium-sized canvas backpack, albeit tightly packed. He believed in purity, which was reflected in his garb—he wore nothing but spotless white clothing. And he was a lover of rhythm, and music, and included a hand-drum, and a small reed flute, called a ney, in his set of things.
The reason for his readiness to travel was to model is life after the hoopoe in the 15th-century Persian epic poem Conference of the Birds
, who famously said “Our home is not where we are; It is where we are going.” The man wanted to be ready to depart on that journey into the unknown immediately, should the opportunity arise.
I mention the teacher not specifically to advocate for sparseness of belongings, though this is clearly a sensibility that would contribute to a greater sustainability on the planet, but in consideration of what is really essential; and to raise the question of the usefulness of what we spend energy carrying around. It’s a question that addresses physical items for sure, and, perhaps more importantly, ideas, which exert the guiding influence on our decisions and activities, our acquisitions and sacrifices.
Formulations that succinctly encapsulate larger meanings, sensibilities, or modes of perception can be handy mnemonics for what is really important on the highways and byways of life. These sayings, or aphorisms, can be brought to mind as a means of engendering being-effort that puts us in touch with another level of intelligence, or a more organized pattern of activity.
In modern literature there is little to compare with the succinctness of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
, or the Ten Commandments, or the Beatitudes, but there are some who have made the attempt. Robert Fripp is one, in his “Fripperisms,” which are mostly followed by a cultish group of guitarists. His are largely from the world of music, (though also relevant in life) like: Silence is an invisible glue.
or, Answers will come through the guitar.
or, How we hold our pick is how we organize our life.
One who achieved some mastery in this is Robert DeRopp, in an excellent book on neo-gnosticism called Self Completion: Keys to a Meaningful Life
. His set of life-principle aphorisms are suitable contents of the single backpack of ideas possessed by those who aim to enrich being, and pan the fragments of insight from the rushing torrents of life.
I include them here for our collective pondering (and invite you to read the book for helpful elucidation—and some required context—of the meaning of each expression): Define your life aims.
Conserve and concentrate chi. Your life depends on it.
Learn how to convert your knowledge into wisdom.
Stop dreaming; be here now.
Control the Horse, care for the Carriage, awaken the Driver, discover the Master.
Substitute intentional doing for accidental happening.
Do only what is necessary.
Maintain a watchman at the gate of impressions.
In activities learn to see the play of three forces.
Believe nothing; test everything.
Distinguish between the higher will and the lower wills.
Strength exerted gives more strength; weakness indulged gives greater weakness.
Separate from all the manifestations of your machine.
Distinguish the quality of essence from that of the persona.
Stand on the bank of time’s river and watch the flow.
To plumb the depth of these principles warrants long pondering and application in life. Only such an effort will transmute them from words to knowledge, and knowledge to understanding.
They also beg us to inspect the ideas and assumptions we have automatically accumulated in life, which may or may not be as reflective of what is true. It is often necessary to sacrifice one item in the pack to make room for another.